Deer Valley Pilots Association

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Safety Articles

Threat and Error Management - Defensive Flying

By Dr. Chuck Crinnian, MD

No doubt everyone has heard of Defensive Driving, it is taught in driver's education in high school and for those lucky enough to get a traffic ticket from the local constable. But, have you given any thought to Defensive Flying? Threat and Error Management (TEM) is just another tool to promote safe flying.

Orville and Wilbur Wright, no doubt, practiced threat and error management on their first controlled flight. More recently, human factors research has looked into this concept from an academic research standpoint. Threats such as adverse weather and traffic conflicts typically occur outside the influence of the pilots while errors such as altitude deviations, autopilot and navigation deviations are within the control of the pilot. Both threats and errors increase the complexity of flight operations and thus impact the safety of flight.

Besides the obvious threats, many are subtle and can stack up the pressures on the pilot to perform. Thus, threats can contribute to errors. Subtle threats can include missing charts, interruptions in pre-flight, late passengers, cabin interruptions from passengers, flight/engine systems not indicating properly, difficult ATC clearances, not understanding ATC communications, and changes in routing. Airline research suggests that pilots experience an average of 4.2 threats per flight. Of these, the average successful management of each threat is 90%. Thus, one tenth of all threats are not managed well. These mismanaged threats lead to errors! The top three threats are conflicting aircraft (13%), ATC (12%), and Adverse Weather (11%).

A wise pilot will develop good countermeasures to threats. TEM philosophy stresses three basic concepts: anticipation, recognition, and recovery. It is vital to anticipate what is likely to go wrong. Anticipation builds vigilance which is key to recognizing threats and errors. The best countermeasures to threats and errors are planning, briefing, and contingency management. Keep situational awareness. Continuous monitoring and cross-checking reduces the error rate.

TEM is a fluid and ongoing process. TEM education is now part of airline crew recurrent training. Is it part of yours?

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